The Nuclear Option

"You are standing on top of an atomic bomb."

No one at orientation believed the Director, they never do. We all just chuckled and waited for him to shoot us a playful smile. But light laughter turned to silence, and his face never changed.

"You are standing on top of an atomic bomb, and one day, you might have to detonate it."

By the end of that orientation, after hearing the emergency procedures and protocols for activating a nuclear warhead, I comprehended this fact. But I never understood it. Not as the klaxons blared, and the emergency lights flooded the walls of the site in a deep red. Not as I heard the ripping of metal and the screams from the floors above me. Not as I looked into the fading eyes of the Director.

His hand, bloodied and broken, places an envelope in mine. It's labeled "authorization codes". I can feel a key inside of it.

"You are standing on top of an atomic bomb," he sputters. His body falls limp. He is dead.


On-Site Nuclear Warhead Protocol

All major Foundation sites are to be outfitted with an on-site nuclear warhead. In the case of a major containment breach, where it is believed that anomalies will make mass, and unrecoverable, contact with a baseline human populace, this warhead is to be detonated to ensure the continued success of the Foundation's mission.

Each warhead is outfitted with remote detonation capabilities, and, given the proper authorization codes, can be activated at any major Foundation site. However, due to the possibility of communicational interference that could be caused by a containment breach, all warheads may also be activated manually, and on-site. If a warhead is detonated in this manner, it is assumed that the site was under a severe and otherwise irrecoverable containment breach, and thus, there will be no countdown.

The decision to detonate the nuclear warhead must be unanimous among the following individuals:

1. The Site Director, who has the requisite information regarding the site to determine the likelihood.

2. The Lead On-Site Containment Specialist, who can assess the severity of the breach in question.

3. At least 3 O5 Council Members

4. The member of the on-site detonation team responsible for the operation of the nuclear warhead

I sprint down the stairwell, practically leaping down flights of stairs. Into the breach, deeper deeper. I overestimate my power and tumble face first into a wall, but the pain is numbing and I just keep going. Deeper deeper.

The outlines of monsters play out through the windowed doors. Each floor is home to new amalgams of shadows and silhouettes that my brain was better off failing to comprehend. This is what they warned us about. This is what happens when things go bad.

Finally I hit the bottom of the stairwell. I open the envelope and unfurl a slip of paper inside. I punch the first passcode into the door. I can barely read it through the blotches of blood. The door clicks.

I burst my way inside to the only room that has been untouched by the catastrophe. It feels like a scene out of a 1980s sci-fi movie, with analog control panels and CRT monitors. The surfaces are coated in dust and the corners are colonized by spiderwebs. I can feel my hands shaking. I take a deep breath.

"Doesn't it bother you?"

"Doesn't what bother me?"

"You know… the thought that any moment, you might just evaporate in a blast of fire and radiation?"

"Because I work here?"

"Well, yeah. We are standing on top of an atomic bomb."

"I just don't think working here is any different from waiting tables in that respect."

"Do I have to repeat the thing about the atomic bomb under the floorboards?"

"Jerry, ultimately the question isn't about the distance to the bomb, right? The question is about the existential dread. The fear of being the next Chernobyl. And while that has its own sense of fear… the end result is not that different from a city on the coast becoming the next Hiroshima. The only difference is whether the blast is coming from below or above. But it's all the same. It's all the same fire. It's all the same ash. Same radiation poisoning."

"And you're just OK with that?"

"We've been living at the other end of a gun called 'The Nuclear Bomb' since the mid 1940s. Just because you finally realized that, doesn't change the fact that we don't have much choice but to be OK with it."

"… I'm not sure I can accept that."

"Then run for fucking President, Jerry. Join a disarmament movement. But you're not going to fix that problem working for the Foundation."

The site directors and the overseers talk a big game about how difficult their job is. How hard it is to make the decisions they do. They have had to sacrifice so much to maintain normalcy, and they can feel the weight of each and every life on their shoulders. Atlases, the lot of them.

They tell us this from behind their nice fancy desk, in their office lined with mahogany bookshelves and diamond chandeliers. Or from behind a screen half-way across the world. Where they then lean back and feel the weight… of the little number in their spreadsheet going up and down.

They aren't the ones turning the key. They aren't the ones pushing the button. They aren't the ones making the decision.

I feel the weight of the brass in my palm. It's sapped the heat from my hand and now feels like an extension of my fingers. I shove it inside the control panel, which blinks and whirs to life.

The Foundation started putting atomic bombs in their sites ever since Oppenheimer blew one up in New Mexico. Even as the Foundation expanded in the 60s and 70s, building up the massive Site-17, Site-19, Site-43, Site-120, the nuclear warhead remained a fixture of the architectural layouts. And they weren't careless about the placement of the sites either. They were remote, so far away that only a few thousand people would even see the smoke.

But that was fifty years ago. And nobody properly understood the scope of urban sprawl. The winding tendrils of suburbia that stretched across developed nations. Now, a major highway runs by Site-17. Real estate developers build up the swamp surrounding Site-23.

This site is only 3 miles away from a middle school.

I have just armed an atomic bomb.

The small plastic cover for the final detonation button lifts. It's small, and it's red, and it's flashing.

I place my thumb over the button.

"Hey, do you really think you could do it?"


"… how?"

"Oh don't give me that look. I'm not gonna act like it's some noble decision. I just, like we have a job to do, right? We're here to protect normalcy. I'm going to fucking do that. And besides— I know I'm a piece of shit for this, but if I'm going down there, I know I'm not coming back up. So it's not like I'm going to have to live with the guilt."

I recently visited Hiroshima as part of a trip I took with my family to Japan. Of course, we visited the A-Bomb museum. It was a very well constructed museum. A lot of museums are just a collection of exhibits, antiques and plaques. Sometimes an individual exhibit will have a sense of a through line but usually it doesn't feel like it's trying to tell a story. This museum, though, it told a story. It painted a very vivid picture of the devastation of the atomic bomb. It made really stunning usage of testimonials from survivors and the families of the dead, of pictures taken during and after the bombing, and a lot of other media.

You first enter this long, dark passageway, that has these frosted windows. But you can't see through them. They're completely opaque and shine this dull blue color, which dimly lights the whole museum.

Then come the paintings of the victims, each horrible in their own way. Not because of excruciating detail, but rather the lack thereof. How red blotches depicted boils, or groups of thin red and grey lines represented how the threads of torn clothes had entangled with flesh. All of this next to actual pictures of burn victims with ulcers on their tongues and charred skin across their backs.

It's at this point I realized how many parents were taking their children to see the museum. So many little Japanese boys and girls looking at carnage I hadn't seen until I was at least twice their age. I guess it's never too early to be taught the horrors of war.

After the paintings, we walked through a hall lined with pictures of children killed in the explosion, paired with a pair of gloves, or maybe a watch that they owned. All of these belongings donated by grieving families who left small accounts of how they learned their children had died.

This led to the stories of the radiation poisoning victims. All of the families that had to watch their loved ones atrophy and decay, until their body couldn't hold out any longer.

That is the final stretch before we exited the main wing of the museum, but we didn't empty out into a main lobby or some sort of foyer. Instead, we turned the corner into a hallway that runs backward along the main exhibit. Finally, we can see outside, through a glass wall that runs the length of the exhibit hall. There's a point where everyone stops and looks out the window for a moment, along the various peace memorials lined up along the courtyard… through a hole in the tree line, to see this:


Let's run some quick numbers. The on-site nuclear warhead is about 9 megatons. This means that anything within 1.2 miles will be evaporated upon detonation. And then radiation will spread for about 2 miles. And then on top of that, thermal radiation will burn civilians within 16.8 miles. Even for a site built in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, that is going to instantly kill 13,000 people, low ball. Then it will create burn victims and douse radiation on another 50,000 people, low ball.

And then that's not even accounting for the wind taking the fallout and spreading it out across the crops and fields nearby. Or the number of rescue workers who might fall ill cleaning up in the aftermath.

It doesn't even factor in the true aftermath.


Post-Nuclear Warhead Detonation Protocol

There are two scenarios that will occur when an on-site nuclear warhead is detonated. First, the detonation occurs sufficiently far away from civilians that there are minimal spectators/victims. In this case, amnestics are administered as per nominal protocol, and communications are coordinated with the government of the respective nation to announce that the explosion was part of a test of their nuclear warhead supply.

Second, the detonation occurs within proximity of a civilian population center. In this case, the first and foremost priority is to maintain secrecy of the Foundation, and the anomalous. This means that the cause of the explosion must be levied on a highly probable target. This could be almost any nuclear super power, such as the United States, Russia, China, etc.

After a culprit has been named, Foundation personnel embedded in the involved governments are to advocate for peaceful resolutions; however, it is acknowledged that the likelihood of mutual annihilation is very high. Furthermore, in the case of more unstable governments, the resultant nuclear fallout may increase to a global scale. Should this occur, Foundation Sites are to follow the proper XK-End-of-the-World Scenario procedures, including the arming and detonation of their respective nuclear warheads.

Remember, if the light illuminates things that we must not see, then all of humanity must die in the dark. It would be a regrettable path, but we would be successful in our mission. A world of fire and brimstone is well within normalcy.

I am standing on top of a nuclear bomb.

My thumb quivers.

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